Meeting Paris Agreement target impossible without nuclear power: GR Srinivasan

The world is applauding India’s efforts in meeting its target under the Paris Agreement and waking up to the reality of major economies failing to meet theirs. In this backdrop, Indian Nuclear Energy Experts contend that it is impossible to meet the goals of cutting down carbon emission without realising full potential of nuclear power.

The signatories of the Paris Agreement had committed to reduce their greenhouse-gas emissions by 2030. However, the data collated by the Climate Action Tracker has painted a grim picture that no industrialised country – the United States, Germany or Japan – is on track to fulfil its commitment.

“Germany is the biggest polluter in European Union. I cannot see how they can meet Paris targets without nuclear energy,” said GR Srinivasan, Advisor, Nuclear Power Business. GMR Energy Ltd and former Vice Chairman, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). He was speaking at the International Conference on “Recent Developments in Clean and Safe Nuclear Power Generation”. Srinivasan was referring to Germany’s plan to shut down its nuclear reactor by 2022. Hence, the major industrial country Germany is likely to miss its near-term emissions goals, as the rapid growth in renewables has been partly offset by the closure of nuclear power plants.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima Nuclear Plant disaster, the world experienced a dip in the nuclear power contribution to the global energy matrix. But, it is well on rise driven by the setting up of new nuclear power reactors by China and India. The current speed, however, is not enough and also the exclusion of nuclear power from Clear Development Mechanisms (CDMs) continue to be a big hindrance in realising its full potential. CDMs under the Kyoto Protocol allow industrialised countries to cut down their greenhouse gas emissions by investing in these projects.

India is responsible for 6 per cent of global CO2 emissions following China, which accounts for 28 per cent, the United States for 16 per cent and the European Union 10 per cent. In terms of per capita CO2 emissions, 10 countries are ahead of India as about 240 million Indians do not have access to electricity. India intends to produce 40 per cent of its power from non-fossil fuels. This would entail a significant shift from coal-based power generation to renewable energy sources. But, nuclear energy does not enjoy the same amount of preference from the Indian government as solar or wind.

“India’s energy planning needs to be meticulous and needs to take care of the gestation period. It needs to reduce the construction time for nuclear reactor…. Nuclear power needs to be included as CDMs (to combat climate change),” Srinivasan added. India, presently, has 22 operational nuclear reactors. The Indian Nuclear Industry is at a disadvantageous position in relation to the solar and wind energy owing to the subsidies provided to the latter.

Wind installations have marked an increase at a compounded rate of 18 per cent and solar installations have increased by a rate of 198 per cent. At this rate, as per a report released by Independent Power Producers Association of India, by the end of 2022, India will have installed capacity of 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of wind power. But these renewable energy resources will not come without their socio-ecological impact, as they are the most land hungry energy-generation resources. According to experts, to replace the power generated by one typical coal-fired power station with renewable energy requires an area of around 500 km square. And, in India land is one of the scarcest resources considering its population.

Apart from their intermittency, these resources have come out to be expensive as well. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy intended to spend Rs. 4,046.25 crore to set up 25 solar parks across the country with varying capacity of 500 to 1000 MW. The estimated cost for the development park was Rs. 0.95 crore per MW. By December 2014, the Ministry received application to establish solar park with total capacity of 22.1 GW that translates into an investment of Rs. 21,000 crores on a 48.6 thousand hectares of land. The government intends to set up these plants on barren lands.

“India needs to expedite work on fourth generation Nuclear Power Plants especially use of Thorium, which is future fuel,” Srinivasan said, while adding: “Thorium is for India what oil is for Saudi Arabia.” The thorium-fuelled Advanced Heavy Water Reactors (AHWRs) forming the base of Indian nuclear power grid was mooted in 1950s by Homi Bhabha to make India self-reliant in nuclear power as it has vast Thorium reserves in contrast to Uranium serves that needs to be imported. Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) – a unit of Department of Atomic Energy – is working on the research and development of AHWR. BARC has already developed a technology demonstrator of thorium fuel-based vertical pressure tube type, heavy water moderated and boiling light water cooled reactor.